I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently. In my time in transit to and from the airport, waiting for flights, riding out cancellations, and actually taking the flights, I’ve had ample opportunities to reflect on the positives and negatives of travel.
Tallying up all of my trips over the past six months, I’ve had 48 days of work-related travel, including the travel time. This works out to 15 days of conference related travel, 5 days of invited seminar travel, 11 days of working group travel, and 17 days of field work travel. I also fit in 17 days of personal travel over the past 6 months. Looking back, that’s a lot of travel.
For me, for right now, it’s simply too much.
Work travel comes with a ton of benefits. I get to reconnect with friends who now live around the world, I get to see new cities and countries, and experience different cultures. I am usually happy and intellectually stimulated while at my destination. I love talking about science, meeting new people doing cool work, and thinking up new ideas and projects.
But, there are some major downsides. It seems glamorous to travel to different cities around the country and world, but in reality I often only see the area around my hotel, the area around the meeting venue, and the views on my walk in between the two. Travel also disrupts my normal workflow. While I am still technically working while traveling, can work quite productively on the plane rides, and can usually stay reasonably up-to-date with emails, traveling means time away from my “normal” workload- interacting with students and colleagues, lab meetings, writing, lecture prep, etc. Furthermore, I always need some time to recover, but often work travel occurs over weekends so I don’t actually get much down time, which means I’m grumpier and less productive once I’m home. And on the personal front, work travel constitutes a financial burden- both in terms of floating money on my credit cards to be reimbursed later, as well as in arranging for the care of dependents left at home (in my case, my pets). I don’t exercise as regularly as normal and I often eat crappy food while en route. Work travel also means time away from friends and family, and I have less desire or time for personal travel.
So I am reevaluating my travel schedule and trying to recalibrate in order to achieve the right balance of travel. But I’m not exactly sure what that balance should be. I’ve started to think about the opportunity costs versus rewards for each type of travel and am trying to set guidelines for deciding between opportunities.
My preliminary thoughts on the different types of travel:
- Conference travel (Good in limited amounts)
- Invited seminars at universities (Again, good in limited amounts)
- Working groups (Are these a good use of my time? Maybe, maybe not)
- Field work/research team meetings (Necessary, and something I usually enjoy)
- Service (e.g., NSF panels) (Good in limited amounts)
- Personal (Necessary, and also something I enjoy)
I’ve read with intense interest different strategies for balancing travel. Dr. Radhika Nagpal (the 7 year postdoc) limits herself to a set number of trips (5) per year. Dr. Meghan Duffy’s post from last year, plus the comments, are a wealth of information about the travel habits of ecologists. My own framework is still a work in progress and I don’t have any clear strategies. I definitely need to cut back on the number of conferences I attend per year and possibly also my working group commitments. I don’t want to cut back on my personal or field work travel, and my service travel will ramp up starting this year, as well as field work. So some questions I’m asking myself now are: How many trips per year should I be taking? And more importantly, what is the right kind of travel to be doing, especially for a newbie professor?
So, dear readers, I’ll put these questions to you. Do you have any hard and fast rules about travel? How do you make decisions about which types of travel are worth it to you, and which types you could do without?